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Architects Costa Rica: How to Find The Perfect One For Your Entire Project

One of the first questions in the process of purchasing your first property in Costa Rica might be: Where can I find the right architect?

Your immediate instinct is probably to google “Architects Costa Rica,” which is what brings you to this article.

But other questions you might have are: Is it hard to build a house in Costa Rica? How long does it take to build a house in Costa Rica?

Or maybe even…How much does it cost to build a house in Costa Rica?

The Steps to Find Your Architect

And while finding an architect might help you answer some of these questions right away, some more information might be required to answer all of them.

Especially speaking from my experience as an architect, beeing pretty specific early on alreay helps an architects mind to think about your project and solutions subconcously, while you haven’t even paid anything yet. Isn’t that amazing!? Story of my life.

I put together a list of points you should cover from the beginning on, as it will help you to structure your quest of finding an architect and will finally save you time and nerves.

  1. Set Your Goals
  2. Time Spent in Costa Rica
  3. Rental Unit vs. Private Use
  4. List of Spaces
  5. “Must-Haves” & “Nice-to Haves”
  6. Budget
  7. Key Features
  8. Inspiration
  9. Timeline
  10. Property Documents

Meeting at Studio Octava

1. Set Your Goals

The process of undergoing an architectural project in Costa Rica can be quite a complex endeavor.

The planning stages can be lengthy, and costly so make sure time and money are two things you have.

To make the process swift and simple – and to avoid possible pitfalls – make sure you communicate your goals, i.e. what you’re looking for with your team right away.

Getting clear about your goals reduces the risk of ending up with a lengthy planning process and can help cut your costs significantly.

This might sound straightforward, but it is often most difficult. The question is: What do you want to achieve with your build?

Answering this, depends on your family or financial goals. Take a look at the future you envision for yourself, not just where you’re at right now.

We work with a multitude of clients and that truly have turned their lives around. So why no you as well?

2. Time Spent in Costa Rica

Some clients want to make Costa Rica their home base, while others prefer staying here for a mere two weeks every year.

We’ve had clients who move here with their entire family, including children, excited to do a 360 on their lives.

Others want to split their time 50/50, spending half their time in their home country and half over here.

Each of these scenarios greatly impacts architectural decisions made along the way, so it is important to be clear about your intentions.

The time spent in Costa Rica needs to be accounted for before designing your project, to optimize your project accordingly.

3. Rental Use Vs. Private Use

A common request across our clientele is to design a home for themselves in addition to several rental units.

This can result in a big investment, but it gives our clients the opportunity to build their homes in Costa Rica while also recovering their finances.

A sound business plan is key in order to make that investment a success.

Make sure you have made a decision on that so your architect can help you figure out to fill in any blanks, especially when you are aiming for some rental units.

Opal Residence by Studio Octava

4. List of Spaces

So after you covered the basics, preparing a list of spaces that you want to occupy day by day when you are in Costa Rica is a great way to start.

And while this task could quickly end up in a long list of spaces that you might not need afterall it can help to imagine scenarios that you would like to accomplish with your project.

Los Pumas Residence by Studio Octava

For example, a dinner with a large group of friends might result in a large kitchen island with a expandable table. If you love to read, well then you might want some semi-private niche spaces with lots of light and green around you.

Wait, isn’t it to early to think about these details? No, knowing these things, will allow your architect to come up with a more accurate sqm amount and cost estimate for your project especially IF you havent provided any sqm amount yet and you also have no idea how much area you should dedicate to your building.

5. Must Haves & Nice-To Haves

At the beginning

Start brainstorming and write down everything that comes to mind when imagining your dream home. Remove all limits at this time – monetary or otherwise – and let your imagination flow.

Once you’ve done this, you can divide this list into two smaller lists: “Must-Haves” and “Nice-to-Haves.” Do the same later on with house features, such as the kitchen or pool.

Add the type of space, its relation to other spaces, and approximate size, if known.

A good exercise to compare the square meters you currently have and understand if this bedroom for example is too small, the perfect size or too big? Do you love your kitchen currently or there are things you would love to change? These small details could be key for your designer to know it.

Los Pumas Residence by Studio Octava

6. Budget

Before the design process starts you can start defining the desired spaces. You’ll find yourself asking: what can I actually afford?

We could go on and on about budgeting for your architecture project, but we’ll leave that for another blog. The general rule of thumb is that a new building should cost anywhere from 850 to 1,300 USD per square meter. This cost does not include furniture.

Of course, assigning a number to your project is difficult, as building choices such as the use of concrete or lightweight materials can cause the amount to go up or down respectively.

We recommend you define the maximum amount you’d like to spend and subtract 20-30% from that to have some wiggle room and ta-da, you have your new budget.

Before drawing out your initial idea, your architect should calculate the actual square metered amount you will be able to afford using your final budget.

7. House Features

When building abroad in an exciting country like Costa Rica, we want to learn more about native architecture styles. Unlike many other Central American and South American countries, Costa Rica’s historical buildings are rare and difficult to find although historians know them. Current architects are struggling to find an identity. Big developers are bringing copies of foreign styles. We believe in valuing what we have learned abroad in terms of quality and comfort but we are in that quest to create a local tropical style that allows for European comfort and durability. It is a great task that we have in front of us.

The next step is to define the features of your Costa Rican “Casa.”

Views of Infinity pools in Costa Rica

What kind of pool would you or your kids like? Do you expect to host large groups of guests in your kitchen? Would you like a garden, jacuzzi, or sauna? Is there a specific architectural style you’d like to get inspired by such as contemporary architecture, Modern style, Classic, Byzantine or Spanish? Would you like a large roof terrace with a stunning ocean view to host your favorite DJ and have a cocktail party? It could be also inspired by Latin America culture of generous common areas. Do you have natural surroundings that could be included in the desi

9. Inspiration

In Costa Rica there are various common building types. On the Caribbean coast, it is common to see wooden houses raised on stilts to prevent flooding.

You may want an eco-friendly property that exists in synchronicity of the natural environment; Costa Rica is home to plenty of eco-lodges. This is due in part to the country firmly asserting itself as a global leader of eco-tourism. 

Las Catalinas, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The team you hire will have projects that help you understand their influences. You can create an album or Pinterest board with images of other architectural projects you love. Your design team will look at these pictures and they will begin to understand your tastes if you are able to go further and explain why you like these images even better.

10. Timeline

Building your dream home is an amazing opportunity, but can have its drawbacks, especially in Costa Rica and the whole of Latin America.

Setting a realistic timeline for your project is essential so that expectations are managed.

The planning process of projects in Costa Rica can take anywhere from 4-8 months, depending on its size.

Add another 3-6 months to acquire building permissions.

And finally, the average construction time for a house is 8 months.

Building your dream home is an amazing opportunity, but can have its drawbacks, especially in Costa Rica and the whole of Latin America.

11 Prepare Property Documents

It is important to note that the majority of documents have an expiration date so keep an eye out for the documents you are collecting and make sure to use them before they expire. Once they expire you must ask to extend them or request an additional copy. 

The most important document is the “Catastro” which is similar to a title deed. It is obtained from the nearest municipality office to your property.

Other important documents are the “uso de suelo” use of land, site surveys, water, and electricity letters. Make sure to check if this is covered under your project or if it requires an investment on your end. Also, a site analysis that takes into account the surrounding environment.

Though you’re able to get these documents on your own, we always recommend you ask your team to do this for you or at least read them after you get them.

These documents help you understand the type of development you’re able to undergo, the rules you need to follow, and any local regulations. Even If your broker or seller gives you these documents, get your design team to review them. Your design team would be looking if your envision project could be developed on this property.

Something a broker don’t pay attention to in some cases and also he just might not know about red flags for construction.

To mention one very important document is the water letter. In a project, we just review one it look normal but it wasn’t. It missed a Spanish term “disponibilidad de agua” which means water availability the document looked similar but it was not what it was needed.

There are different regulatory entities depending on your property’s location, so advice is specific to each case.

In general, it’s a good practice to sit down with your architect and understand what regulations are applied to your property before buying.

Your Ideal Answer to the Search ‘Architects Costa Rica’

Make sure you find the right team for you, with whom you’re comfortable having calls, meetings, and constant communication. 

Do you feel comfortable asking questions?

Do you trust your architect’s decisions, intent, or taste?

Do they have your best interest in mind?

Do they challenge your ideas in a positive way and enrich your vision?

Your designer should both honor and question your ideas, as they are better experienced in the home-building process. 

Meeting at Studio Octava office

Checklist For Finding Your Ideal Architecture & Engineer Team:

  • Make sure you communicate clearly and comfortably with each other.
  • Understand what you’re hiring them for, i.e. what services they are required to provide.
  • Choose a team who is available to truly focus on your project.
  • Start the document requesting process before time so that you make the most of your meetings.

Do you feel comfortable asking questions?

Get Started

Once you have both your site chosen and the required documents, you’ll want to get started with site surveys. Examples of survey include topography, geology, filtration, architecture, etc. 

Now you can get started with a Feasibility Phase. Come prepared with as many of the above-mentioned points to discuss with your architect. 

Construction Site Visit, Cóbano, Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Schematic Design

The first phase of working out your architecture concept is called SD: Schematic Design. With that information, the initial concept can be made and not just a concept design but also an initial budget. In this phase, you can ask for changes and even review different design proposals. There is more than one possibility for every property and together we’ll find the most successful option and move forward to the next phase.

Casa Marquise by Studio Octava

Design Development

The next Phase is DD: Design Development were not only architectural, but structural, mechanical, and electrical plans are developed. All of these plans are to be submitted for permits. Depending on the size of the project, permits will be obtained by multiple institutions. Three examples of required permits are environmental permits, construction permits, and infrastructure permits such as rainwater management.

Residence Eleanor Interior Design by Studio Octava

Apply for permissions

In Costa Rica the CFIA institution allows you to manage your construction permits online. Submitting permits has its fees but they are relatively small compared to CFIA, INS, and municipality fees.

Once your payment is done the CFIA will stamp your project blueprints and send them to the corresponding institutions, where they will be checked again. The project plans will always go to the municipality. A health check is required if you plan to build a pool and a fire check is required to be done for apartment complexes by firefighter institutions. Fire checks will look at available evacuation routes in case of an emergency and materials used that are fire retardant.

Once all permits are granted you can start the next phase, CD: Construction Documents and Construction. At this phase, you’ll likely have an updated construction plan due to all the permits that have been checked and edited prior.

Get In Touch

If you would like to get to know us and have more questions regarding this topic feel free to reach out to us at project@studiooctava.com requesting an introductory call.

We’re Studio Octava – a dedicated architecture company located in San José, Costa Rica, that brings you international knowledge, and processes of larger architecture firms but in a more intimate setting.

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We are Matt & Rhina, the founders of Studio Octava. Studio Octava Is building residential and hospitality projects all over Costa Rica, This blog is about what we’re are working on, what tools we use as well as about our experiences as architects & developers.

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